“Will we able to play on the roads where we are going?” Ahmer’s son asks his father. Ahmer’s family is one of hundreds that have left Balochistan in the face of threats and violence, making their way to their home provinces as the situation deteriorates for outsiders and settlers.
Of late, life in Quetta for the Ahmer family had been reduced to staying indoors for the children and keeping a low profile. At the end it had become dangerous to stay on.
“One of my sons once had a fight in school and the principal told me not to send him the next day. When I asked why, she said that the other party was looking for my son and me, with armed men, because I was an outsider,” said Ahmer
That is when they decided to pack their belongings and move out. Now the children play noisily on the roads in Lahore but in his heart Ahmer feels he is not happy. A part of him longs for Quetta and for all that he left behind.
Today Ahmer works at a bank in Lahore and tries to trace his roots in the city his father left in the 1950s. Looking back, Ahmer says it is a decision he lives to regret on different levels. He leaves behind childhood friends in Quetta. And looks for relatives and friends his father left behind.
It is a difficult process of picking up the pieces. In Ahmer’s case, the migration was less traumatic as he had a job waiting. Most of those who leave Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have no such support. They depend on the goodwill of family and friends.
Ahmer has not forgotten Quetta. He is particularly hurt by the hateful sentiments in his final days there. “I do not understand why there is this discrimination. Is being more skilled a sin?”
As Ahmer spoke, another old friend from Quetta walked in. This friend had also migrated to Lahore. “You had so much property, what happened?” asked Ahmer. His friend replied that all had been sold. Like Ahmer, many more are trying to start a new life in Punjab and Sindh.
In May, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a fact finding mission. The report highlights that insurgents have murdered settlers in targeted killings with impunity. A majority of these murders are on the basis of ethnicity and belief.
In a number of districts, large areas have been “cleansed” of settler populations. The report recommends that the provincial government not remain a silent spectator as people are killed daily.
Baloch leaders, however, defend their position. Speaking on the phone from Quetta, Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini of the Balochistan National Party says “the feeling exists because of all the military operations”. He says that “outsiders settled in Balochistan have isolated themselves too by supporting non-Baloch political parties”.
“If they don’t consider us as one of their own, how can the people of Balochistan consider them otherwise?”
Senator Khudai Noor Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz feels that the hatred can go away if all those involved in injustices are brought to task. “It all started after Musharraf killed Nawab Akbar Bugti. And till we do not prosecute him, the situation will remain tense.”
According to the senator, more than 100,000 people have migrated out of Balochistan. This includes skilled professionals, labourers and even government officials. “People are being targeted here all the time. The government is doing nothing about it, but condemning it,” he says.
While there is no independent confirmation of this exodus, there are fears that the number will rise in the coming months as hopes of some political solution to the crisis in Pakistan’s largest province start to fade.
[NOTE: Ahmer’s name has been changed due to his safety concerns]
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2011.